Lidar assessment of Wetlands and Long-Term Water Management on the coastal plains of Tabasco and Campeche, Mexico and their links to Holocene Global Change

Authors: Timothy Beach*, University of Texas at Austin, Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, University of Texas at Austin, Takeshi Inomata, University of Arizona
Topics: Paleoenvironmental Change, Anthropocene, Soils
Keywords: Lidar, wetlands, Maya, Olmec, Early Anthropocene
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 36
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Wetland manipulations for farming and water management started in the Early Holocene. The best known example has been rice paddies facilitated by surplus monsoon rain induced flooding in Asia. Studies have linked these wetlands with increased greenhouse gases—and the possible Early Anthropocene—from deforestation to create plots and changing environments from oxidizing to reducing soils. Several recent lidar studies have shown that wetland farming in the Americas was also widespread, may have started in the Early Holocene, and may also have contributed to global change and carbon sequestration. These wetland systems certainly created landesque capital and ecosystem changes. Here we assess publicly available and restricted access lidar imagery from the coastal plains of Tabasco and Campeche, Mexico to estimate the aerial extent of ancient wetland agriculture. Here, the Usumacinta and other large rivers converge, creating a vast area of wetlands at the heartland of Maya and Olmec civilizations. Recent work shows a high density of ancient habitation sites and wetland field complexes, and scholars have reported ancient canals in this region since the 1960s. We review where and how wetland complexes were verified by lidar in tandem with multiproxy evidence from excavation and coring. Second, we present the new areas of wetland field complexes in Campeche and Tabasco. Third, we discuss new case studies of canal systems. Finally, we present a model for how to verify such systems through remote sensing and field verification and how to solve the puzzle of wetland farming’s impacts on the Early Anthropocene.

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